Category Archives: Information Literacy

Intentional teaching, intentional learning: Toward threshold concepts through reflective practice

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Jarson, Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian at Muhlenberg College.

This fall marked the start of my tenth academic year as a librarian. It startles me, to say the least, to count up the years and arrive at (almost) ten. Having spent the majority of my career so far at a small college, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a wide variety of projects. As a public services librarian, though, my attention has most frequently been directed to reference, instruction, and all things information literacy. It’s no surprise that, six-ish weeks into the semester, information literacy instruction is on my agenda and my mind.

Just the other week, a faculty member and I were chatting about our past versus present selves in the classroom. A critical eye back over the years dredges up some pretty squirm-worthy memories. Because they were performed in front of an audience of students and faculty, these mis-steps are especially embarrassing to bring to mind. I cringe to recall, for example, some excruciating moments in early years in which I droned on about the minutiae of search strategies, students’ eyes glazing over, drool practically trickling down their chins. I’m grateful, then, to look back and also recognize successes and, more importantly, evolution in my teaching. Perhaps it’s just those most awkward and agonizing of moments that best surface the need for change and fuel experimentation with alternate approaches.

For many, a protocol of reflection and experimentation, of trial and error, seems a natural drive. Yet demands on our time and attention might cause us to repeat an ineffective session because we don’t have the time to examine its inadequacies and restructure. Our many competing obligations might prevent us from effecting the more wholesale change we sometimes desire. In an effort to promote the “intentionality” of my reflection and experimentation, as Booth (2011) might say, and to pay it more of the attention it deserves, I’ve been compelling myself to make space for it, adding it to my to-do lists, to my annual goals. In years past, themes of my reflection-for-self-improvement-in-the-classroom regimen have included, for example, scaffolding skills to slow the pace adequately for students’ development and enhancing student engagement through more constructive (and constructivist) in-class activities. This intentional reflection is giving me the perspective and head space to uncover my assumptions and shortcomings and to motivate improvement, rather than revisit the same practice again and again for no good reason.

I don’t mean to claim that I’m reinventing any library instruction wheels. Far from it. But I do hope I’m oiling its sometimes rusty squeak for a smoother, more productive and engaging ride that takes us all (student, faculty, and librarian alike) a little further down the pike. As are you, I don’t doubt. How I will feel in another ten years when I look back on yesterday’s class or today’s blog post, even, is up for grabs. But on we march. And thank goodness for this drive forward, for the chance to reflect, learn from these shortcomings, and try again. Moment to moment, class to class, semester to semester. Small or large, these steps trend toward progress.

As I reflect on my practice in this particular year, then, I think that what I’m trying to teach—and where I’m still coming up short—is the practice of reflection. Too often, I know I have focused on the how at the expense of the why. I long ago moved beyond the point-and-click method of library instruction. Yet despite my efforts thus far to model, scaffold, and construct our way toward information literate, a connecting piece seems to be still sometimes missing. When I look back now to find my in-class nods to the what for, I better recognize their nuance and how hard it must have been for inexperienced students to catch them, decode them. While my modeling and scaffolding certainly have had the why at their core, many students haven’t had the frame of reference to recognize its presence. I want to uncover for students the habits of mind—the “knowledge practices” and “dispositions,” so to speak—of information literacy, not just the clickpaths to mimic it.

So this year I’m looking to add reflective, metacognitive moments to help expose rationales, purposes, and processes for students. With the metacognitive mindset made visible, I hope students will develop a more flexible information literacy lens to apply to their future paths. I think this is a strength of the new (draft) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: highlighting the reflective practice and metacognitive mettle at the core of information literacy. Metacognitive awareness is, no surprise to us, inherent in information literacy skills and development; the new draft framework helps us to enhance its prominence.

Now to the business of actually doing this. How, you might ask? Good question. I wish I had more answers. So far I’m trying to integrate more direct discussion of process and purpose into my classes. I’m trying to lay bare for students the practice, reflection, and progression that complicates this work, but also connects the gaps, that brings them closer to crossing the threshold. And I’m trying to work with faculty to extend this work beyond the limitations of single, isolated library sessions. I see some successes so far, but it feels more than a little premature to claim I’ve conquered such a problem. By their nature, these concepts and this work are complex and protracted. For now, I am (mostly) satisfied to be working on it.

I feel I can’t so much as stick a toe into these waters without at least a nod to their expansiveness. I imagine you recognize, too, the shared roles of librarians and faculty in this kind of information literacy instruction. These are not topics and goals isolated to a one-shot instruction session. This is the work of not one class, but many. This is the work not only of librarians, but of faculty, too. We work to establish the library as a leader in information literacy on our campuses, but it’s also our aim to recognize the extensive information literacy work that takes place outside the library-instruction-specific classroom. Our ambitions to promote shared faculty and librarian understanding of information literacy, common investment in students’ learning, and opportunities for collaboration and curricular development are ever more relevant.

As I recognize the role of intentional reflection in my own development, then, I’m struck to see its place of primacy in my teaching goals, as well. I might typically brush this aside as a self-apparent truth requiring no further deliberation. In my reflection-oriented state, though, I’m more inclined to pause for a moment and consider the parallels of these themes in information literacy teaching and in information literacy learning. With my ongoing push (some days it’s a bit more like a shove) into an intentionally reflective practice, I’m aiming to improve student learning as a more effective, responsive, and flexible instructor. I’m simultaneously aiming for a congruent push toward a reflective and metacognitive student mentality to tip their scales toward greater engagement and transformation. As Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011) wrote, it’s these “big ideas that make information science exciting and worth learning about.”

What about you? What are you uncovering and developing in your pedagogy? What roles have reflection, metacognition, and threshold concepts played in your instructional evolution? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

All the News, In Print

My household recently started getting the print edition of our local newspaper again. I know what you’re thinking: Really? Print? In 2014? When everyone in the house is fortunate enough to have a device on which they could read the electronic version (if they were so inclined)?

I’m old enough that I’ve spent most of my life getting the news from a print newspaper until relatively recently. When I moved into an apartment with friends halfway through college, ordering up daily newspaper delivery made it seem like we were truly adults despite a diet consisting mostly of boxed mac and cheese. My partner and I kept getting the paper delivered when we moved to graduate school and jobs, even as the paper got somewhat smaller and slimmer. And then it suddenly seemed like too much — all that paper to haul downstairs to the recycling every week, especially on the weekends, with sections we didn’t even read. The newspaper website had the same content and didn’t cost anything, so we canceled our subscription. Eventually the paywalls went up so we bought a digital subscription.

And there we stayed until recently. About two weeks ago, to be exact. What changed my mind? My kid is finishing up middle school this year, and I wanted to see if he would pick up and read the newspaper if it was left physically around the house. He could read it digitally, as do my partner and I, but he doesn’t. We tell him about big news stories, and he sometimes has to find a newspaper article or editorial for school, but that’s about it for his encounters with the paper. And since we don’t tend to watch the news on TV, he doesn’t have any regular exposure to news other than what he seeks out (while he reads a lot online, he tends to gravitate more to video game news than current events news).

It’s been really interesting to go back to the print newspaper. Some things I’ve noticed:

  • I now read or skim a larger number of articles than I used to when I read the paper solely online, and in (some) sections that I often would more or less skip. But that also takes longer, and the result is that I typically can’t get through the entire paper at breakfast and have to leave some sections for the evening.
  • It’s much, much easier to browse through the newspaper in its physical form. This is good for my kid, because his science teacher has requested that he and his classmates each find a science article in the paper every week. The images are better too — there are more of them, and you don’t have to click to embiggen like on the website (which often means I don’t take the time for that click).
  • In general I hate advertising, but I appreciate the ads much more in the paper paper than online. It seems like there are ads that don’t make it to the website — mainly political ads — which is interesting. And the juxtaposition of news and ad content can be fascinating: my favorite was a recent story about New York City’s “poor doors” — an awful proposal for separate entrances in apartment buildings with both market-rate and affordable housing — right across from a full-page spread advertising a new luxury building. I know these kinds of contrasts occur on the website too, but I find it easier to tune out the ads online so I guess I don’t notice them as much.
  • Some of the non-news content that the paper (still!) runs was a complete surprise. Weather I can see the value in, though it seems like the weather’s so changeable now that even printing the forecast the night before could be of limited use. But TV listings! For all of the channels! Movie times! At all of the theaters! Who knew they’re still in the paper? I’ve been racking my brain for a use case for those listings — it seems unlikely to me that there are folks out there who’d only have access to or would rather get that information from the print newspaper.

All of this means that I’m suddenly finding myself very nostalgic for the age of paper newspapers in our academic libraries. I know they’re impractical for a whole range of reasons (so I’m not really serious about their return), but I do think they’re better for students in a number of ways. Yes, our students can browse and search the websites for their local newspapers, and they’ll often get the full text and at least some of the photos that accompany the article. But they lose the context provided by the layout of the physical page and the section and location in which the articles appear. And if they use a library database to search multiple newspapers simultaneously they’ll get lots of content but even less context: no images, and no visual cues as to what audience the newspaper seeks. I can’t imagine that print newspapers will ever come back to academic libraries, but I wonder what we can do to bring the positive aspects of the print experience to our students’ use of online newspapers?

Embedding, Flipping, and More at LOEX 2014

I was fortunate to be able to attend the LOEX Conference this year, which took place May 8-10 in Grand Rapids, MI. I have only ever heard great things about this conference, and accordingly, I had a great experience.

This was my first time attending the LOEX Conference and I only became aware of it recently (within the past year). Many readers here will likely be familiar with LOEX, but for those who aren’t, LOEX stands for Library Orientation Exchange and it is a “self-supporting, non-profit educational clearinghouse for library instruction and information literacy information.” The annual conference has earned a reputation for being particularly relevant and exciting for instruction and information literacy librarians, as attested by the many people I met who were either multiple-time attendees, or thrilled to finally get to go to the conference.

I went into the conference with high expectations, which were met and exceeded. The two days were full of presentations and workshops that are extremely relevant to my work, and with ideas I can incorporate by making small changes. I love coming away with new ideas that are practical, so I can actually implement them myself. Here are some things that the LOEX Conference got me thinking about:

Embedding

A few presentations focused on embedded librarianship in one way or another. “Embedded” often refers to being embedded in an online course, but these conversations also brought up ways to extend the library’s presence beyond the one-shot, without necessarily being embedded online. For example, librarians can collaborate with faculty to redesign a course or a central assignment. That sounds like it can be a huge task (to me, at least), but some possibilities for integrating information literacy outside of the one-shot could be having students do a reflection paper about their research process, introducing concept mapping to develop literature reviews, or discussing with faculty how information literacy fits in with their own disciplinary content and pedagogical goals.

Another opportunity to be more embedded comes as a solution to a common problem – when you receive a request for instruction at the very beginning of the semester, clearly not at the point-of-need. Of course, try to schedule the instruction session at a time when students will benefit more from the information, but you could also visit the classroom at the initial request for a short 5-10 minute introduction of yourself and the library. This would increase students’ familiarity with a librarian and allow you to build a relationship with students prior to the one-shot session, an important connection which I think can go a long way. If the initial classroom visit gets too time-intensive, it could be replaced by a re-usable introduction video.

Flipping

During the interactive session on the flipped classroom, my group ended up talking about student buy-in and accountability: what do you do when students come to class having not done the pre-assignment or reading? One answer is to plan ahead with faculty so that the pre-assignment can be added to their syllabus, thus adding more accountability. My first reaction to this idea was that there is no way I can have instruction sessions planned out far enough in advance to be added to a syllabus. However, I now think this could take the form of a more general statement, for example:  “At least one class session will be led by a librarian to introduce you to library resources and assist with research skills. This may require a pre-assignment.” This leads to another point that the presenters stressed as important for a successful flipped classroom: identifying faculty who will be supportive. It’s less likely that students will see value where their instructor doesn’t.

That session also served as a great reminder for me that flipping the class should not be an opportunity to cram in more information, but an opportunity to cover a topic more in depth through the use of a pre-assignment and in-class active learning. I realized that the one time I somewhat-flipped the classroom, it was because I didn’t have time to cover everything I wanted to. I sent a video tutorial for them to watch ahead of time, and it was just an add-on, rather than an enhancement.

And More

These are really just a few things that I came away with after LOEX, and it’s already my longest post here yet. Some other useful ideas I picked up had to do with active learning assessment, design recommendations for online tutorials, and reflecting on and improving teaching strategies.

I constantly had a tough time deciding which session to attend, because they all looked good. By scrolling through the conference hashtag (#loex2014) on Twitter, I could tell that was the case. One thing I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the interactive sessions. Although I didn’t think I would want to interact very much, I ended up loving how they facilitated conversation and sharing of ideas with new people.

It was great to attend a conference for academic librarians that was so focused on instruction and information literacy, and I definitely hope to go to the LOEX Conference again sometime.

Librarians Meet the Commissioners, Live: The Middle State Accreditation Standards Revisions Redux

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Beth Evans, Electronic Services Librarian and Africana Studies/PRLS/Women’s Studies Specialist at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

If the recent town hall meeting of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) in Albany, New York had been a boxing match, you might have easily concluded that the librarians won in a forceful effort to help shape the revision of the accreditation standards document. One third of all those who stood up to speak spoke in defense of the work librarians do on college campuses across the region.  Furthermore, not all of those who spoke were librarians.  Librarians had allies among the classroom faculty present.  One history professor closed out the comment period with an impassioned call for all to recognize the seductions of the latest trends as not having the tested value of some of what has been with us for centuries.  In particular, he referenced libraries.

The overwhelming response of librarians to the call for action in the ACRLog post of January 27, 2014 and other forums had a resounding effect.

While some may feel librarians and library concerns dominated the open discussion at the MSCHE meeting – one speaker from the audience, not a librarian, elicited a laugh from all when she introduced herself and made a particular point of saying that she was not a librarian – in an odd sort of way, it might be argued that libraries lost some ground in this critical round with the Middle State Commissions.  Yes, there was a victory, and a strong victory it was.  The chair of the steering committee, in a conversation before the proceedings, in introductory comments to the assembled audience, and throughout the open comments period, apologized for the omission of the words “information literacy” from what will become the new Characteristics of Excellence.  It was a mistake, he said.  An embarrassment.  We were wrong and we are going to correct it.

The Middle States Commission, the same accrediting body that Steven J. Bell had called “a good friend to academic librarians…an early adopter of specific language in its standards addressing information literacy as a desired learning outcome,” had made a boo-boo and was more than ready to make it better.

Information literacy was in.  But libraries were out.  So were laboratories, art studios, physical education facilities, and any other tangible objects, for this is a standards document focused on the student learning experience and not on the counting of things. Never mind that certain things, ranging from large, physical facilities and infrastructure (including infrastructure that allows for learning in a non-physical or virtual setting) to the smaller tools of education from brushes to beakers to books, play an indispensable role in the educational process.  As the president of the Commission warned those present, any attempts to be specific and proscriptive in the new document would endanger the future viability of the accreditation process.  Counting library books, in particular, was noted as an out-dated methodology, something to be steered clear of in a modern evaluation of a college.  A number of other vitals have dropped from consideration. Faculty is a word less used in the current proposed standards. Faculty used to be covered as a standard of its own.  According to the Commission, some of their members do not employ faculty.  So faculty are not required to make a college and neither are libraries.

Most librarians would agree with the Commission that counting books is not a fair way to measure the adequacy of a college.  Librarians are the first to acknowledge that we own less and less of what we consider to be our collections and lease more and more. Our big e-book packages see titles come and go, often with the result that we will give up on cataloging whatever books are in an electronic package to save ourselves the effort later of removing titles from the OPAC. Counting these books as a way to define our libraries would be like counting each raindrop as it falls, and then disappears on a lake, or worse, down a drain.

Indeed, the visible physicality of the academic library has been on the decline since the end of the card catalog, through the advent of CD-ROMs, to standardized access to databases through the internet. Nonetheless, Jason Kramer, the Executive Director of the New York State Higher Education Initiative, a library lobbying and advocacy group, made a forecast at the MSCHE town hall meeting this past April first.  If the physical functions of what libraries do—the thoughtful selecting and the collective acquiring of and providing access to resources on the behalf of many—is not taken into equal account with the established and now well-accepted role of librarians as key in the educational path towards information literacy, legislators will see this as an opportunity to deny funding for library resources.  It will be April Fool’s Day for many days going forward and it will be libraries who are the ones who will have been duped. In other words, if higher education standards documents make no mention of the need for a college or a university to acquire valuable, and sometimes costly, information resources as one way in which they are defined as an institution of higher learning, then those elected officials who see that tax dollars make their way back into the economy will pass over libraries as fully-prepared to do their job with little more than access to Google.

Perhaps the match between the librarians and Middle States Commissioners in Albany was not a win for either side but rather ended in a tie.  The Commission accepted that it must add information literacy back into the document; librarians are ready to make the case for expanding their role to include other things library.  According to the New York rules of boxing—and this has been a face-off in the New York State capital, an official will often decide on a winner when there is a tie based on which contender appears to be in “better physical condition.” Librarians will do well for the future of education and all learning if we begin to step forward and acknowledge once again the very real physicality of the profession we serve.  Libraries are very much about concrete, tangible goods, services and spaces without which, the incorporeal, but totally laudable goal of assisting learners on their path towards information literacy could not be achieved.

Beyond Livetweeting: Twitter Chats for Professional Development

This time 11 days ago I was grumpy. It was the last Friday before Spring Break, and I was prepping to teach an English Comp I session the next morning — not just a Saturday class but the Saturday before the break week. Our English Comp I sessions are typically assignment-driven, as we’ve found that to be more useful for students than a library tour or orientation, and having an assignment to work on encourages them to participate during the session.

But this class was different. Just one week prior to the library session, the current professor had taken over this class from another professor who’d fallen ill. The new prof was still getting his bearings with the students and he hadn’t yet assigned the research essay. I’d been thinking for a while now that I need to develop a solid plan for these occasional no-assignment sessions, something interactive and useful to students, but it’s been a busy semester and I haven’t found the time to put to it. So there I was with a class the next morning, not at all sure what I’d do with those students, how I’d keep them awake and engaged on the last day before break, or what I could offer that would be of most use to them when they eventually got to work on their research assignments near the end of the semester.

And then I remembered the most recent #critlib chat. What is #critlib, you ask? It’s a Twitter chat held at 9pm Eastern time every other Tuesday, begun earlier this month by moderators (in alphabetical order by Twitter handle) Jenna Freedman (@barnlib), Annie Pho (@catladylib), Emily Drabinski (@edrabinski), Kelly McElroy (@kellymce), and Nicole Pagowsky (@pumpedlibrarian). The purpose of the chat is to “engage in discussion about what critical pedagogy is and how it can be used in library instruction.” The most recent chat, on April 8, was terrific, with conversation ranging from whether neutrality is possible to strategies for encouraging our students to think critically about information. As Barbara pointed out:

At the time I’d wondered how I could incorporate what I read and learned during the chat into my usual strategy for teaching the English Comp I library session, and the need to create a new strategy for this no-assignment session let me do just that. I was lucky that the professor’s broad topic for the class is the American Dream, which is perhaps more amenable to a critical information literacy lens than many topics. I began by spending time talking with students about creating a more narrow research question from a broad topic, and we used the hypothetical research question “Is the American Dream available to all Americans in 2014?” to generate keywords and synonyms for searching which I wrote on the whiteboard.

Overall the session included more questions and discussion and less time for students to search on their own than the more assignment-driven sessions I teach. We spent lots of time talking about how information is produced and distributed while trying to keep a practical focus on what’s available in the library and what’s available on the open internet. We talked about how search engine results are ranked, and what to consider when choosing which information to use. I asked them to work with a partner to find one library and one internet source; while I love asking students to work together, it can be challenging if each student has chosen a different research topic.

While much of what I did in this session is similar to what I do in the more assignment-driven sessions, reviewing the #critlib chat before planning the session helped me stay mindful of critical approaches to information literacy as I was teaching. There’s always so much to cover in a library session and it can be so easy to charge on through, and I’m grateful that participating in the chat two weeks ago reminded me to look for opportunities to draw in students’ own experiences and to question the information landscape with students.

I’ve used Twitter to catch up on conference livetweeting for a while now, and also get lots of recommendations for professional reading and resources from the folks I follow, but this is the first time I’ve dipped into a Twitter chat for professional development. If you’ve missed the two chats so far, never fear: there’s a terrific cheat sheet/repository of chats and questions with links to a Zotero bibliography and a Storify of each chat. And if you’re interested in critical information literacy, please join in! The next chat is tomorrow, Tuesday April 22nd, at 9pm Eastern. Use the hashtag #critlib to tweet and follow the conversations.